Georgia had a plan. It executed that plan. Five days after firing Mark Fox, Greg McGarity has landed the best-credentialed coach in the history of Georgia basketball. Tom Crean has been to the Final Four and has never been in trouble with the NCAA. Hugh Durham and Jim Harrick ticked only one of those boxes.
My slight preference was Thad Matta because he’d worked at a school comparable to Georgia and had more trophies on his resume. Crean was always No. 1a. He more than suffices. He’ll offer the Bulldogs something that has long been lacking in Athens – enthusiasm. He’ll win the press conference. He’ll make people notice a program that some Georgia alums take pride in not noticing.
This is a big day/night for Georgia hoops. It’s an even bigger one for the athletic director. McGarity was lambasted by Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports for wooing Matta without landing him. I have the greatest respect for Thamel – good writer, good guy – but I have trouble seeing what McGarity did wrong. He offered the job to his No. 1 choice. His No. 1 choice thought hard about it and said no. Within 30 hours, No. 1a had come aboard. If that was playing catch-up ball, I’d say this AD is all caught up.
My quibble with Crean is the same as everyone’s: He never quite broke through at Indiana, which is one of the few schools that care more about roundball than King Football. He took the Hoosiers to three Sweet 16s and won two Big Ten titles, so it would be wrong to call him a failure. But raging successes don’t get fired, do they?
Georgia could be a better place for him. The pressure to win big isn’t nearly the same, though that was McGarity’s clear message in swapping Fox for Crean: Pretty good isn’t good enough; we could/should do better.
Crean will do better. He’s a good X-and-O coach. His teams tend to be slick on offense. He will not be a shrinking violet. He will grab Georgia basketball by the lapels and shake it into something different. There’s risk inherent in any hire, but it’s hard to imagine Crean not being an immediate upgrade.
A coach has the right to name the staff of his choosing, but Crean – and I’m guessing the bug has been planted in his ear already – would be well served keeping Jonas Hayes as lead recruiter. Georgia recruiting has gotten better, largely because of Hayes. His continuing presence would go a long way toward making the Bulldogs even more of a force among in-state players. If Georgia is ever going to reach another Final Four – its one and only came in 1983 – it can’t keep seeing the Collin Sextons of the world cross the border.
But enough of that. If you’re a Georgia basketball fan, you should feel very good tonight. If you’re not … well, you’d better watch out. Tom Crean just might make you one.
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